A new study funded by the National Institute on Aging has uncovered a diet plan that can put you on the path to all three—in just four days. In a preliminary study reported in the new issue of Cell Metabolism, researchers found that cutting daily calories in half for just four days every two weeks reduced biomarkers for aging, diabetes, heart disease and cancer with no adverse effects. "It isn't a typical diet because it's not something you have to stay on," says lead researcher Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.
Researchers tested the eating plan, called a "fasting mimicking diet" (FMD), on yeast, mice and humans. Turns out, it doesn't matter what species you are: The results remained consistent across all three groups. The yeast and mice studies showed that the diet increased lifespan, while a pilot study given to 19 human subjects indicated that the same approach could not only slow the physical and mental aging process, but also help slash belly fat accumulation.
The diet "mimics" fasting because you're not cutting out all food. Instead, researchers reduced the individual's caloric intake down to 34 to 54 percent of normal for four consecutive days every two weeks.
Longo believes that for most people, the FMD can be done every three to six months, depending on one's health and body weight. Here, the editors of Eat This, Not That! reveal exclusive tips for making "fasting lite" work in your busy life and reducing hunger. Alternate your 4-day diet with these 11 Eating Habits That Will Reveal Your Abs.
Alternate Fasting Days
You don't have to slash calories four days in a row — during a busy work week — to reap some rewards of fasting. Between shuttling the kids to extracurriculars and fixing family meals, sometimes you just can't block off four days straight. Try to block off every other day instead: Fasting in this pattern leads to a 10+ pound weight loss after 10 weeks, according to a study out of the University of Illinois. And it may also be beneficial in more extreme cases; obese adults who tried this particular method of intermittent fasting (and also added exercise into the mix) lost weight, fried fat and slashed bad cholesterol–while boosting good cholesterol–according to research published in the journal Obesity.
Pick Hunger- Busting Foods
Slashing 54 percent of your daily calories sounds rough, but there are foods that can help you sail through the day without your stomach growls interrupting the office like a fire alarm. The secret is spending your calories on foods that boost your levels of leptin, a hormone that controls hunger. Start your day with a bowl of oats; this breakfast staple is packed with insoluble fiber, which one Canadian study showed can boost levels of leptin. That's why it's one of the key tricks in our exclusive 14 Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days.
Drinking enough water will not only fill your stomach and ward off hunger, but it also keeps your energy levels up and your metabolism from dipping while you're eating less. But plain water can get boring, so mix in glasses of water spiked with pieces of fresh fruit and cups of tea.
Make Room for Resistant Starch
If you're going on a fast — or dieting — your first instinct might be to avoid all carbs, since they break down quickly in your body and can grow belly fat. But if you choose the right starchy foods, they can actually help you sail through your four days of fasting and trim down in the process. Slightly underripe bananas and white beans should both be on your menu during your fast as they're rich in resistant starch. This type of starch resists digestion (hence, the name) so it passes through the small intestine without being digested. This feeds healthy gut bacteria, leading to prolonged feelings of fullness and more efficient fat oxidation. (Cool weight-loss secret: when you chill pasta, it turns into a resistant starch. Learn more tricks with this special report: 6 Best Sources of Resistant Starch.)
Head to Bed Earlier
Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for hunger regulation and even healthy weight loss. A recent study found sub-par sleep could undermine weight loss by as much as 55 percent. Inadequate or broken sleep can throw hunger-regulating hormones out of balance. Ghrelin, the "I'm hungry" hormone, shoots up; leptin, the "I'm full!" hormone, decreases. The result? You're hungrier, grumpier, and you eat more food. Plus, going to bed early and logging a full eight hours a night while you're fasting makes it easier to bypass less than virtuous late-night cravings.
Break Your Fast Carefully
After four days of successful fasting, it's easy to try to make up for all that time — and treats that went uneaten — by splurging on fatty foods or simply overeating. Make sure to go back to eating as you normally do after your four days of dieting.